The immune system is made up of several different types of white blood cells, which B cells and T cells (which are lymphocytes), as well as mast cells. There are MANY signaling substance “messengers” which include antibodies, histamines, cytokines, and more.
The white blood cells are made in the bone marrow, and each play a different role in the immune system.
B cells make antibodies (IgA, IgG, IgE, etc) and help to “flag” invading cells so the rest of the immune system knows what to attack.
T cells, which are generated in the thymus gland, can directly kill infected cells and cancer cells, and make cytokines that communicate to the rest of the immune system to fend off viruses, bacteria and any other abnormal cells (cancer cells) or a foreign substances.
Mast cells, which are especially important in the intestines, directly eliminate pathogens and release histamine, cytokines, and other messengers to signal to the rest of the immune system.
It is when inflammation is over the top, and doesn’t turn off when it should, or is over-reactive and over-protective to substances that aren’t really an issue, that trouble ensues.
What Is a Cytokine Storm?
You’ve probably heard the term (cytokine storm) being used lately in regard to COVID-19, but these “storms” can also occur with various other viral and bacterial infections, cancers and autoimmune disease.
A cytokine storm is an overproduction inflammatory cytokines, that get confused and start over protecting us from our own cells and tissue. This action attracts even more cells that end up attacking and damaging healthy cells in the body.
Immunosuppressive medications (like steroids) are used to inhibit this hyper-cytokine response, by shutting down the immune response. The most common use of these drugs is in the treatment of autoimmune conditions and cancer. There is a downside here, because these medications are also associated with an increased risk of infection and cancer. In some cases, the benefits outweigh the risks.